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Ashton Fan

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  1. I know that a lot of balletgoers here will be pleased to hear an official announcement that Dowell's production is at last to be pensioned off. It has been heartily loathed by many since its premier. Some claim not to have darkened the doors of Covent Garden to see a company performance of Swan Lake since 1987. It's not the choreographic text so much as the designs and the coarse stage business in the Petipa acts that people object to. Updating the action to the end of the nineteenth century was a big mistake as it brought the work into the world of realism.It is interesting that Dowell now says that he originally thought it was going to be a medieval production and that it was the designer who came up with that bright idea.

    .Attempting to restore the choreographic text was laudable in theory but it had disastrous results in practice. The attempt to restore sections of dance and business that are described but not recorded led to the removal of the Ashton waltz and its replacement with limp uninspired dances with stools and a maypole by David Bintley. The stage business in Acts I, II and III introduced coarse, boorish behaviour and a tutor whose actions suggests that he should be on the child protection register.It has also led the corps, who by definition tend to be young and impressionable, to treat the first act as if it was a work by MacMillan. The chaperones behave as if they are characters in Manon and even the " supers" who are older and should know better have decided to join in the dance action . It also had the unfortunate effect of souring relations with Ashton which meant that Dowell was unable to use the Ashton choreography he did want to include..As a result the Neapolitan dance was not restored until after Ashton's death.

    The production is" bling" laden with gold everywhere you look.I think it is fair to say that the majority of those who are old enough to have seen the old production with its clean atmospheric designs, clear action and Ashton choreography felt let down by what replaced it. On paper attempting to restore action and dance which is not in the Stepanov choreographic notation seems like a good idea but in practice it meant losing an act which was coherent and ordered with two sections of substantial choreography in the Ashton waltz and the pas de trois,replacing it with what is best described as an incoherent mess of undistinguished choreography and unnecessary stage business. It could be that the original choreography for the section which includes the waltz was not recorded was because it was not that good. It is noticeable that it is the Petipa acts of this ballet rather than the Ivanov acts which have most frequently been altered. Did they lack the quality and inspiration of Ivanov's work? It does seem as if Petipa having seen how good Ivanov's initial staging of the lakeside section was decided to get in on the act when it came to staging the ballet in St Petersburg. But wisely he only choreographed the court scenes.

    Looking back at the Dowell directorship it is pretty clear that design was not his strong point. The effect of his Sleeping Beauty and his Swan Lake were both undermined by their scenery and fussy costumes. While Russel Roberts and he managed to kill the choreography of Daphnis and Chloe with costumes which destroyed the amplitude of the movement. I find it strange that so many people professionally involved with dance seem indifferent to the overall visual impact that a work has on an audience and fail to ask simple questions about visibility. In the case of the soon to be jettisoned Swan Lake it would have helped if Dowell had challenged the designer's vision more often. There is a very simple reason for the lakeside scenes being white acts .It is not just because the audience has to be reminded of the dancers' dual nature as swans and women. The scenes take place at night and the white costumes ensure that the dancers are visible.Unfortunately no one seems to have thought about the visibility of the dancing in Act III where the floor is dark and so are most of the costumes which can makes it difficult for example to see see the prince's choreography.

    As to who gets to stage the new production we shall see what we shall see.At the moment Scarlett seems a better option than the other in house choreographers.And remember the company is unlikely to ask Ratmanskey or any other Russian to mount the work as the Royal does not do Jesters and has its own performance traditions. After the Ross Stretton Sleeping Beauty staged by Markarova which lasted a nano second and was loathed by balletomanes and critics alike I do not think that a director would dare make that sort of "inspired"choice again, at least I hope not.


    Whoever gets the job they will have a lot of choreographic choices to make. Restoring an Ashton waltz, there are two, a pas de douze for the main company and a pas de six for the old touring company, would be a good start.Keeping the Ashton Neapolitan Dance is non negotiable. Kevin O'Hare will be in for a lot of public criticism on the ROH website if that disappears again. In fact restoring all the previous production's choreography using the Ashton and Ivanov Act IV in alternate seasons would leave most people very happy.But I know that it is not going to happen. As long as it does not turn into Siegrfied's drug induced dream (Peter Darrell) and is not subject to any other reworkings, bright ideas and concepts I shall be reasonably happy that is until I see it.Then who knows? What do they say about getting and not getting what you wish for? There is only one thing worse than not getting what you wish for and that's getting it.

    But one thing that will make this production very different from the current one is that the audience will not feel that they have to suffer in silence if the choreographic text is poor or if the designs and lighting are inadequate. The website is likely to crash with adverse comments if the new production is not up to the mark.

  2. I think that there is a very simple explanation for the variation being described as "Spessivtseva's variation" by Dolin which has nothing to do with any suggestion that she had been the first to dance it. Years ago I saw a programme in which Markova said that when the Vic Wells Ballet were preparing to stage their first performances of Giselle (late 1933) with Nikolai Sergeyev as Ballet Master, he had discussed the variations that she might dance at this point in Act 1. There were two variations recorded in the Stepanov notation. Sergeyev let her choose the.variation that she would like to dance. She unhesitatingly selected the one that she had seen Spessivtseva dance which is why it is that version that is invariably danced in the West.

    I do not recall that she described it as the "Spessivtseva variation" but it would have been understandable had she done so.It seems quite natural to me that any one who had seen Spessivtseva dance it;someone who had danced with her in Giselle or who knew that Markova had chosen the variation in preference to other options and the reason for her choice might come to describe it as Spessivtseva's.

  3. Mashinka,I should be interested to hear more about your views on Wheeldon's W inter's Tale. As I am sure you are aware it was generally well received here being seen as a considerable advance on his Alice. Of course it could be that the response was, in part, a collective sigh of relief that it was not as bad as McGrepor's Raven Girl.

  4. Perhaps you would care to expand on what you find wrong with the production. I know that I think that it is worse than either of the other productions that the company has acquired and abandoned but then I am not keen on Don Q as a ballet. The Royal did not need them and it does not need this one. It has plenty of Ashton ballets that it has not danced for years, such as the Two Pigeons, which is great fun and has some beautiful choreography. Pigeons was made on young dancers and would give the exceptionally talented young dancers in the company an opportunity to develop their stage craft and artistry. Spending time, effort and money on reviving them would have made more sense than allocating resources to the mess that is Acosta's Don Q.

    The production makes me question O'Hare's artistic judgment . Did he think that because Nureyev and Baryshnikov had successfully mounted productions of Don Q that Acosta would be able to do so? The Cubans produce fine dancers but good training is not comparable to the rich artistic background that both Nureyev and Baryshnikov acquired during their time training and performing in Russia. Did he agree to it out of a sense of gratitude to Acosta who is soon to retire? Whatever the reason it does not, in my opinion, do much to enhance the reputation of either of them or the company. .

    Don Q is, for me, a ballet that needs to be danced with whole hearted vulgarity something that comes naturally to a company like the Bolshoi but not to the Royal or to the Mariinsky, for that matter,or it needs to be staged by someone like Ratmansky who has, in his staging for the Dutch National ballet, almost convinced me that the ballet is not that bad after all. But then he seems to have gone to the trouble of.researching descriptions of the original production and the notation which relates to a later production in an attempt to show us a Don Q which is closer to the Petipa original than the hotchpot that most companies perform today.Playing the music in the correct sequence does wonders for a performance as does good costume design.Well the Royal Ballet's production has an awful re-orchestrated score,fussy costumes and scenery, ill judged entrances and a poor choreographic text which means that the dancers have to work desperately hard to make any impact at all which is a pity because there is a lot of promise in the lower ranks of the company with dancers like Francesca Hayward, Yasmine Naghdi and Anne Marie O'Sullivan.

  5. In 2014 there were far more Ashton ballets in performance than is usually the case and there were also some fascinating offerings from the archives. During the summer Birmingham Royal Ballet performed an Ashton triple bill of Les Rendezvous, Dante Sonata and Facade. I went to Birmingham to see it because Dante Sonata is such a rarity that I had only seen it twice when the company first revived it after a gap of about fifty years. The ballet is fascinating because it is so unlike anything else that Ashton produced but it was two live performances of Les Rendezvous, followed a few months later by a BBC film of the same ballet from 1962 that sent me back to read Geraldine Morris's book.

    Now I knew that Les Rendezvous would not look like the ballet did when I first saw it in the 1970's because it has been redesigned in a manner which is totally insensitive to the choreographer's floor plan and the ballet's original setting and mood.But I was prepared for that. At one performance it was reasonably well cast with the lead female role given to a dancer who could manage the soft, almost Giselle like qualities, demanded by the ballerina's role in Les Rendezvous. At the other performance the dancer was hopelessly miscast or perhaps had ignored the coach.I expected some difference between the casts in the two live performances. What I was not ready for was how different the dancing in both live performances looked when compared to that in the filmed version which I saw a few months later. I did not expect them to look exactly the same but they looked like totally different ballets. In the 1962 film the dancers were light and very fast with lovely arms, little or no preparation for jumps and with light and shade in their dancing the live casts were, by comparison, slower and more deliberate and lacked the liveliness and the sense of fun that was somehow generated by the filmed performance. Seeing the film convinced me that I had not been mistaken when I had felt dissatisfied by the quality of the dancing in recent revivals. What did the book tell me?

    Morris begins her book by writing about the effect that the Russian "absolutist methods" of training have had on the ability of dancers to recognise differences in style and reproduce the work of older choreographers. The fact that pupils of these methods are told that what they are being taught will enable them to perform the step in question in any ballet she believes sends dancers on to the stage unable to distinguish between the danse d'ecole and the form of the steps as set by the choreographer.The idea that there is one fixed way of performing any step is a significant part of the problem in reproducing Ashton's style but so too, she points out, is the modern fashion of treating the pas de bouree as mere linking steps taking the dancer from one pose to the next where in Ashton these steps are often an integral part of the characterisation. She describes her methodology and devotes a whole chapter to the various influences on Ashton's choreography. Perhaps the most important part of the chapter is the discussion of the eclectic nature of the ballet training available in England in the 1920's and 1930's.She makes it clear that the dancers that he worked with had a shared aesthetic but because of the variety of training available to them, were more open and receptive, and better able to identify different styles than is the case today. She writes about Rambert and comments on the individuality of the dancers that she trained and her ability to identify, nurture and support

    young choreographic talent. She writes about de Valois and her choreography; the influence on Ashton of Nijinska, Petipa and Buddy Bradley but despite Alexander Grant's assertion that Massine was essential to understanding Ashton ,Massine is scarcely mentioned. She also discusses the impact on him of seeing Pavlova and Duncan dance.

    She devotes three chapters to in depth discussion of six ballets. A Wedding Bouquet and Les Illuminations are paired in Chapter 3; Birthday Offering and Jazz Calendar in Chapter 4 and finally in Chapter 5 Daphnis and Chloe and A Month in the Country. It is in the section on Birthday Offering that the reader is shown how little Ashton and the Royal Ballet relied on dancers with unified training and how much they depended on dancers who shared an aesthetic, ballet as a flow of movement, and a style which he had, in large part, created. She provides timings for the majority of the Ballerinas' solos in Birthday Offeriing which are considerably faster than we were treated to in the 2012 revival. The discussion of most of the ballets includes quite a lot of information about the design which should make it clear to anyone contemplating redesigning these, or any other of his works, that they will do far more harm than good to the work in question. Many of us are still recovering from the ill judged ancient Greek style designs for Daphnis and Chloe which killed the piece by restricting movement that had previously been amplified by the movement of the fabric used in the girl's skirts.

    I found that the book helped me to identify much of what was missing in many of the performances that I have seen in the last twenty years or so. It would be nice to think that some of those responsible for reviving Ashton's ballets in London would read this book and then look at some of the films from the 1960's and 1970's to see what is missing from current performances. I sometimes think that some of the coaches are so in awe of what today's dancers can do that they fail to notice what they can't do. I suspect that one of the reasons that dancers skimp on the detail is because it is very difficult to dance Ashton's choreography well and he does not let the dancer show how hard his choreography is. I think that this book is of use to anyone interested in Ashton's works whether or not they have seen all the ballets covered in the book. It would be nice to think that ballet is a sufficiently mature as an art form to recognise that just as you can not sing Mozart as if he was Puccini or play Handel as if he was Wagner that you should be sensitive to the choreographers aesthetic and style when you dance twentieth century ballets.

    As to how and why things changed even among those trained at the Royal Ballet School the de Valois syllabus was dropped when Merle Park became director of the school.

    A word of warning about the DVDs mentioned at the end of the bibliography. The author is not necessarily endorsing them as providing fine examples of how Ashton's ballets should be danced.

  6. I have no doubt that a close study of the rather patchy contents of the Royal Ballet's performance archive on the Opera House website would show that the Ashton casting rot set in at the time that Somes "retired" as repetiteur. I recall plenty of occasions during Dowell's directorship when hopes would be raised by the announcements of programmes only to be dashed when the casting was announced.The result was that on those nights, when the casting was half decent, the "regulars" would all turn up at the house in a sort of Ashton reunion.

    The current position is worse because during Dowell's time, although some of his casting decisions had more to do with keeping senior dancers happy than their suitability for particular roles, some works such as Scenes and Symphonic took longer to fall into the hands of dancers for whom the style was alien. During Dowell's directorship.there were plenty of dancers in the company who had worked with Ashton and who had the style in their bones; now the only two that come to mind are the character principals Rosato and McGorian.

    That is not to say that the company could not mount a very successful Ashton evening.The last Ashton mixed bill would have provided a series of exemplary performances if the first night cast for Symphonic had been retained for the entire run, if Pajdack had danced all the performances of Brahms Waltzes and only Month had been shown with two casts.I was amazed that O'Hare had put Scenes de Ballet on the same programme, because in the past the main male role in Scenes was usually taken by a dancer who took the Brian Shaw role in Symphonic. If it was intended to display the company's strength it did not work. It merely served to show how little the management understood about the practicalities of casting.But then what do I know? The worst example of miscasting that I can think of was the double cast of Birthday Offering where only Nunez and a couple of other dancers deserved to be on the stage. I thought at the time that if Mason had really wanted to show two casts she should have let Nunez lead a cast of some of the younger dancers who might at least have been prepared and/or able to dance in the required style. .

  7. The real difference between the two companies is that for Barbieri and Webb at Sarasota reviving Ashton's works is a labour of love while for the current management team at Covent Garden it appears to be a chore. Last year we were given Rhapsody and The Dream. I am not convinced that we would have seen either of them if the company had not been going to Moscow.The truth is that O'Hare seems to be more concerned with "refreshing" the repertory than he is with looking after Ashton's works. MacMillan's works have not suffered as much as Ashton's from poor casting decisions probably because the rights owner is a force to be reckoned with; the fact that she could withdraw the performance rights must be a powerful incentive to stay on the straight and narrow.

    Until last June I would have said that BRB was a dependable custodian of Ashton's works now I am not so sure.In October I went to a screening of Ashton's ballets which included Les Rendezvous filmed in 1962 and A Month in the Country filmed in 1978. The recording from 1962 was particularly interesting as I had been to Birmingham in June to see BRB in their Ashton mixed bill. The programme included two ballets with roles created by Markova, Les Rendezvous where the ballerina's role was clearly influenced by the Romantic style of Giselle, which she had been learning and Facade an earlier work where her role was reliant on her known technical skills and was, if anything, about confounding expectations.I saw two casts.At one performance the female lead had all the Romantic softness required in Les Rendezvous but none of the steel required to bring off the Facade role successfully at the other performance the dancer cast was clearly more of a Myrthe than a Giselle; she was fine in Facade but unsuited to the ballerina role in Les Rendezvous. The films were a revelation of how much the Ashton style has changed over the years. Even allowing for the studio conditions Les Rendezvous as danced by Brian Shaw and Doreen Wells as the lead couple with Petrus Bosman, Merle Park and Graham Usher in the pas de trois was so very fast and light. It looked completely different from what is currently served up under the title of Les Rendezvous and that's merely a comment on the dancing. The revised designs show a complete lack of concern for the ballet's setting and floor plan. But that is another story.

    There are some good Ashton dancers at Covent Garden but they are few in number and if there is a choice between casting one of them or a principal the principal, however unsuitable for the role, will be cast. How else can you explain the decision to cast Golding as Oberon in the Dream last year except that the management thought that it was more important to show a newly signed principal than to cast a dancer who would be able to perform the role in the appropriate style.

    You will have an opportunity to learn about Mr O'Hare's taste and judgment when the Royal Ballet visits you in the summer.It will be interesting to hear your comments on his choice of repertory and the direction in which he means to lead the company. What you think of the company's ability to dance Ashton will depend very much on the casting decisions which he makes.Every new director brings the possibility of change to repertory, dancers and style not all of which are intended not all of which are necessarily detrimental.But it is very easy to overlook what you have grown up with

  8. If recorded music and a bare stage with the occasional attempt at atmospheric lighting is the price that you have to pay for a chance to see these dancers perform some of Bournonville's choreography then it is a price that is well worth paying. I saw them in London last weekend. I can honestly say that five minutes of this Bournonville programme gave me considerably more pleasure than several performances of Acosta's Don Quixote have done. It is such a pleasure to see a performance of the work of a nineteenth century choreographer where you can be fairly certain that what you are seeing on stage is something that the choreographer himself might recognise. The dancing does not involve as much travelling across the stage as we expect from the nineteenth century ballets with which we are most familiar but then it was created for a theatre with a small stage. There is none of the twentieth century flashiness that has found its way into so much of the Russian repertory worldwide.The dancing is elegant, clean, full of petite batterie,wonderfully buoyant with unprepared jumps and is the closest that any of us are going to get to the French style of the early nineteenth century.It is so refreshing to see dancers performing nineteenth century choreography with a real sense of style where nuance rather than flashiness is the order of the day. No one is going to mistake this troupe for acrobats or gymnasts.

    There is greater equality between male and female dancers than we are used to in nineteenth century ballets.Male dancing did not go into decline in Denmark as it did in elsewhere. Bournonville was still a performer, and a very fine one, when he took charge of the King's Theatre and he made roles for himself; when he stopped dancing he continued to make ballets where the the male and female element are of equal importance. Rather than exaggerate the differences in male and female dancing by concentrating on some steps and movements as being the preserve of the male dancer and others the preserve of the female it is the contrast of the effect of the same step performed by dancers of the opposite sex that Bournonville shows us time and time again in his choreography. Bournonville prepared a large number of ballets for preservation but very few of them survived in performance beyond the nineteen twenties presumably because they were considered old fashioned by those in charge of the company.We may have a distorted view of the range of his works because of those decisions but what is left is well worth seeing. even if some of it is fragmentary.

    This programme is a mixture of fragments and "bleeding chunks".All the pieces, with the exception of The Jockey Race which is a reconstruction, have a continuous performing history. I find it difficult to pick out highlights but as the first piece of Bournonville that I ever saw I am always pleased to get a chance to see Flower Festival at Genzano. It was wonderful to see Sorella Englund's Madge at close quarters in the cut down version of Act 2 of La Sylphide that was shown. Any opportunity to see Conservatoire is always welcome even if it is only a small part of it.The finale from Napoli shows Bournonville at his best, even if,as some suggest, Hans Beck had a hand in it, it is still a delight. As for not knowing the dancers. I have never let that stand in my way when it comes to this company. It really does not matter.

  9. As far as Lacotte's reconstruction of La Sylphide is concerned there was not a much loved version whose validity the reconstruction would be seen as challenging which is why, for me, his decisions to put the female corps on pointe to meet the audience's expectations makes no sense. If you set about reconstructing a work that has not been seen for over a hundred years there is no need to stuff it full of anachronisms to make it palatable for a modern audience. I appreciate that the position will be different in the case of a ballet with an apparent continuous performance history particularly when that is combined with a self proclaimed reputation of perfect custodianship which has been fostered over the years.


  10. From what I have seen of Lacotte's " reconstructions" he invariably gives the public what they expect to see rather than what they would have seen and so are best taken with several cartloads of salt. They may be fun to watch occasionally but they can't be taken seriously as attempts to stage nineteenth century works. The pointe work in the first act of La Sylphide tells us everything we needs to know about his approach to restaging. I seem to recall at the time that his La Sylphide was first performed that he was asked why he had put the female corps on point in act one and admitted that there was no historic basis for his decision and that he had only done it because that is what the audience expected. He did not seem too concerned that this negated trying to recreate something of the impact that Taglioni's pointe work had had on La Sylphide's early audiences.

    I found this Pacquita fascinating and would love to see similar work undertaken on Swan Lake. I seem to recall that someone found a record of the last revival of Giselle at the Paris Opera dating from the 1860's which was said to contain notation it would be interesting to see what that looked like and then of course there are those reconstructions of bits of La Vivandiere which surfaced round about the same time and bore little or no likeness to each other. I do not expect a DVD of this reconstruction but it would be nice.

  11. These two clips come from a two part documentary that John Drummond made for the BBC for the long defunct arts programme Omnibus. The documentary was shown in 1969 and has not been disinterred from the vaults since then. In order to make the programme Drummond interviewed twenty former Diaghilev dancers; the interviews were published in book form in Speaking of Diaghilev published by Faber and Faber. I would recommend reading this book as it gives you the chance to get an idea of what it was like to be part of the Diaghilev enterprise at first hand.

    Both Karsavina and Sokolova tried their hand at autobiography. Karsavina's Theatre Street is an account of her training and early career;written in idiosyncratic English it provides a vivid picture of the pre-revolutionary, pre-Vaganova world of Russian ballet.Dancing for Diaghilev ;the Memoirs of Lydia Sokolova provides an eyewitness account of the Diaghilev company written by a non Russian. Sokolova,born Hilda Munnings in Leytonstone East London and renamed by Diaghilev ,created a number of roles including the Chosen Maiden in Massine's Rite of Spring and one of the sporty types in Le Train Bleu. She also famously described the Little Red Ridinghood variation as the most boring variation in ballet. Her book gives an insight into the operation of the company up to its collapse on Diaghilev's death. Both books are well worth reading. Both Karsavina and Sokolova appear in the ICA DVD of the BBC's recordings of Les Sylphides and Giselle. Karsavina introduces Les Sylphides,danced by Markova, Elvin and Beriosova while Sokolova who coached the corps in this work appears in Giselle as Giselle's mother. The other indispensable book for those interested in Karsavina is Tamara Karsavina; Diaghilev's Ballerina by Andrew Foster which is full of finely reproduced photographs from Russian archives.

    Another important autobiography that should be read by anyone interested in Nijinsky and the Diaghilev company is the autobiography of Bronislava Nijinska. Finally while Richard Buckle's books on Nijinsky and Diaghilev are dated I think that they are worth reading alongside more recent scholarship, Buckle may not have been able to read Russian or have access to archives that are now open to scholars but he had met and had spoken to a lot of people who had been involved in the operation of the Ballets Russes and had been eyewitnesses its impact on the West.

    that it had on the West.

  12. I am not sure if any of you will be in London in the next couple of weeks but if you are intending to be here to see Osipova in Don Q you need to know that she fell during the first act on Saturday and was replaced after considerable delay by Takada who had already danced Kitri at the matinee.This puts Osipova's scheduled performances for the rest of the run in considerable doubt. It is unlikely that the company management will tell us very much about replacement casting until the last minute.

    As Takada is replacing Marquez who is off injured as well as dancing her own scheduled performances and Lamb, who is scheduled for Don Q at the end of the run, is standing in for Cuthbertson in Alice as well as dancing her own performances it will be interesting to see what casting solution the management come up with.There are a couple of brave casting decisions that they could make from within the company but one of the dancers who I would like to see as Kitri makes her debut as Alice on Christmas Eve. As I am talking about a possible replacement for Osipova it seems unlikely that a brave decision will be made.

    I shall be very interested to discover what you think of this production when it reaches your shores. I shall just say that my experience of seeing each of the three productions of Don Q that the company has mounted has increased my admiration for Ashton's choreography for the gypsies in Two Pigeons and for De Valois' taste and insight when she declined Nureyev's offer to mount a production of Don Q for the Royal Ballet.She knew what she was doing. The score is undistinguished and not improved by re-orchestration; the choreographic text is dubious at best and this Russian vision of Spain is totally alien to the sensibilities of the dancers.Acosta may be a great dancer but he is not,on the basis of this production, someone with great theatrical flair when it comes to staging a ballets.

  13. I think that you should be thankful that it's not Nunez Acosta again for the broadcast. There are four new pairings for Fille this time round, Morera and Muntagirov,Choe and Campbell, Marquez and Zucchetti and Osipova and McRae. All are unknown quantities. What will Muntagirov who seems born to dance princes and all the Dowell roles be like in this piece? Will all the pairings work equally well in the context of this ballet? The only pairing that are not a completely unknown quantity are Osipova and McRae who appeared together in Rubies to great effect. They were not only technically brilliant but witty. On the basis of those performances management probably think that the pairing is the one most likely to work from the outset with no imbalance between Lise and Colas.

    The other pairing which I think will work well from the outset are Marquez, Campbell. Lise is Marquez's best role.She gives a very honest straightforward account of the role; Campbell is a very adaptable dancer with a good clean technique who has clearly benefited from his time with BRB and there is unlikely to be any imbalance between them.There could be problem with the other pairings .Muntagirov could, like Dowell, turn out to be unsuited to the role of Colas being too much the gentleman and too little the farmer. As far as Choe and Zucchetti are concerned there could well be a significant imbalance between their performances of their respective roles. Choe is by nature and temperament a miniaturist; her performances in other works have, for me,lacked the necessary scale ; Zucchetti on the other hand never does things by half , the result could be that Choe scales up her performance as Lise as Zucchetti is unlikely to scale down his Colas or their performances will centre on Colas with a Lise who is a bit of a blank.

    Of course had the Ashton programme been intended for broadcast management might have shied away from the idea of giving as many people as possible the chance to have a go at Symphonic and might have checked to see what the corps were doing in Scenes but there again that was not an absolute certainty.Given the variability of the standard of performances in each of the ballets shown in the Ashton mixed bill, except Month which had two very good casts, it is probably a good thing for the Royal Ballet's reputation as a custodian of Ashton's works that the mixed bill was not streamed into cinemas.

  14. Lamb and Pennefather also made their debuts in 2011 but the impact that they made in their first performance was so very different from that made by Nunez and Kish.They grabbed their chance and turned in performances that were outstanding both technically and emotionally. They have continued to build on their initial performances and are currently the best cast that the company can offer in this ballet, Unlike Nunez, Lamb does not seem to move as she does because she is reproducing what she has been taught but because that is what Manon is compelled to do. There is no gap between the performer and the character portrayed.The role of DeGrieux poses technical problems for most dancers but Pennefather has mastery of the role and like Lamb has subsumed himself in the role,There are quite a few people here who can only explain the decision to stream the Nunez cast in terms of name recognition and following.

    Francesca Hayward's debut brought another fine and convincing portrayal of Manon; again there was no gap between the dancer and the character that she was performing. Like Lamb every movement told you about the character rather than being a mere repetition of what had been taught in the rehearsal room. .At some points she reminded me of Sibley as she seemed to call attention to her arms at the same points that Sibley did, for example at her entrance and first pas in the brothel scene. Watson, her De Grieux, seemed to have more difficulty with his first solo than I recall from past performances, but once he was past that solo, the years rolled away and he was the young ardent student priest of the novel and MacMillan's ballet. Some people have described Hayward's success as surprising but I don't think that it came as a surprise to many people here. She was an excellent Sophie in Mayerling and made a stunning debut in the ballerina role in Rhapsody in February.Like Nagdhi she has beautiful arms and knows how to use them.She reminded me that when Manon was created there was not the division that you often see now between Ashton dancers who are precise and musical and MacMillan dancers who sometimes perform as if his ballets were all about emoting and sprawling; at the time of its creation the company was still essentially Ashton's epaulement, musicality and all.

    Muntagirov's debut as De Grieux was, as result of Cuthbertson's injury, with Lamb. Muntagirov was born to dance this role the choreography fits him like a glove.His first solo was danced with consummate ease and elegance, the first bedroom pas saw the restoration of details that I had started to think that I had imagined, and so it continued. But their performances were not merely the efficient reproduction of steps; they both used the choreography to create compelling characters .

    I also managed to see Yanowsky's second performance of Manon in this run. Her DeGrieux was Bolle who danced impeccably and seemed more involved with the role and character than before.This was a compelling performance by both dancers and if it turns out to be Yanowsky's last performance in this role it is one that she should be very pleased with;as pleased as the audience clearly was. Their Lescaut was Acosta, his Lescaut was much better than his DeGrieux, in large part because he does not bring the burden of past performances to the role. His DeGrieux is still a safe pair of hands but he has never been much of an actor and so can't fall back on characterisation to bolster his waning skills as a dancer. As to Osipova only time will tell whether Manon is really her role or not. She did not do anything wrong but for me she was a dancer reproducing steps rather than Manon, But then no dancer is equally good in every role even if die hard fans may , to the amusement of friends, insist their supremacy in every role.

  15. Just like the Spring 2011 run of Manon the Autumn Manon marathon gave the audience several new casts in this ballet which at forty is still going strong. Both Nunez and Lamb made their debuts in 2011 but how very different their impact in this role has been. In 2011 Nunez had Kish as her De Grieux this season it was Bonelli. On both occasions some critics have tried to explain her lack of impact by saying that she is a Manon in search of a De Grieux. When the current pairing appeared in Moscow at least one critic commented on the lack of chemistry between them but I don't think that is the problem. Bonelli is good in pricely roles and made a fine Daphnis but he is not a dramatic dancer, someone described his Romeo as the sort of young man who was clearly going to be a good husband and father, not exactly what you look for in a portrayal of Romeo. I am not convinced that the problem with Nunez's Manon is the partners that she has danced with I think that the role is not naturally hers; she is at her best in the bright sunny roles that used to be described as soubrette roles.It is not a question of technique but of personality. I can't fault Nunez as far as the steps are concerned but for me she is always Nunez dancing Manon rather than Manon and that has nothing to do with who she is dancing with but almost everything to do with her inability or unwillingness to let go, forget the steps and dance the ballet.L P .

  16. As far as I can see the seven former Royal Ballet interviewees have, each in their own way, identified the cause of much that is

    wrong with the Royal Ballet. The loss of the training ground provided by the the touring section; the lack of the systematic coaching regime that the major Russian companies have, has probably done more damage than anything else. However;the weaknesses at the school under Park's directorship; Lady MacMIllan pushing her husband's cause for all that it was worth; Dowell's weakness as director,his apparent capitulation to the Board when it came to questions of repertoire and his admitted failure to stand up to Michael Kaiser are all factors that have contributed to its current difficulties

    The problem is,I am not convinced that O'Hare has got what it takes to sort the company out Mason , it seems to me, decided that rescuing and restoring repertory was a more pressing issue than developing dancers. But all the switching dancers around in the recent run of Symphonic Variations does not suggest that O'Hare has any idea of how to deal with the company's problems..Giving everyone the chance to have a go ;resulting in a series of inadequate performances in major mature Ashton works rather than programming his earlier ballets that had trained the company in its early days, is not the way to develop dancers.The failure to give Ashton a more central role in his programming and his decision to mount a production of Don Quixote does not do anything to make me reassess my view of the current artistic director's capacity to deal with the company's problems.

  17. Perhaps classical ballet is in better shape in the US than it is here.I did not find all the negativity that some of you say that you found in the book. I would not describe Desmond Kelly's interview as a rant .It seemed to me that each of the former Royal Ballet dancers had some very pertinent things to say about the amount of experience that they were able to get early in their careers. The extensive tours of twelve, fourteen or more works with eight performances a week gave all of them a solid grounding in the works of Petipa,Ashton, MacMillan and others. No wonder they brought so much to the ballets that they danced.It is the difference between dancing Swan Lake or Fille twice in a season and fourteen times on tour.It is about the strength, stamina and insight that the dancers derived from that experience.What they say about coaching or the lack of it and the way that choreography has been watered down (Seymour) or altered (McLeary) was for me most illuminating.

    Perhaps the problem is that seven of the interviewees are former Royal Ballet dancers but what they say about coaching and rehearsing roles and the overemphasis on pyrotechnics at the expense of artistry goes a long way to explain the type of performance that we see to often in certain ballets. McLeary's working relationship with Guillem explains how and why choreography is altered and how certain dancers get away with it;David Wall's comments on the adverse effect that learning from DVD can have on the individual dancer's development of a role even when they have coaching helps explain some of the performances that we see.

    Of course we may not want to read that, in the experience of an interviewee, the current corps of dancers are more concerned with technique than artistry; or that some of them have little or no interest in anything except technique or that for many the efficient reproduction steps of is thought to be all that is required in order to dance in a ballet. But those comments are based on long experience as a dancer and coach and deserve to be given serious consideration. Ananiashvili was still dancing at the time that she was interviewed and is engaged in restoring and developing a company with dancers who, perhaps, have a somewhat different attitude to their art. Sibley makes only occasional forays into the rehearsal room and only does so to coach dancers in her old roles, perhaps as a result, she tends to work with dancers who are more concerned with artistry. I think that it is a book that anyone interested in ballet should read.It may make you think.

  18. I agree that it is sad that Cervera has been so underused.But it is also sad from the audience's point of view that dancers are cast in roles for which they are clearly unsuited simply because they are principals and have a following.I think that the audience is entitled to expect that the Royal Ballet will put on the best casts that it can for each type of ballet that it stages. The fact that it does not always do so is not so much of a problem for regular repertory pieces such as Manon but is little short of disastrous when works that are performed infrequently are cast in that way. Although a few of Ashton's works have a secure toehold in the repertory the majority do not and so the decision to treat Scenes and Symphonic as training opportunities has almost certainly done more harm than good both for the dancers and audiences. If Kevin O'Hare has finally recognised the need for the company to dance more Ashton then he should have scheduled pieces like Facade and Les Patineurs and scheduled Monotones for revival.

  19. The topic started as an attempt to identify Ashton dancers It would be so much easier to answer this question if both the Royal Ballet and the Birmingham Royal Ballet programmed Ashton's works with greater regularity and covered a wider range of them than they do. Then there is casting.There are very few dancers who are equally effective in everything.If you can get it wrong by casting dancers in order to give them something to do,Soares and Galeazzi in the Thais pas de deux for example, or because they want to dance particular roles Guillem in Month in the Country and Margueritte and Armand then you can do almost as much damage by deciding that the corps' work in Scenes de Ballet should be used as a learning opportunity and that Symphonic Variations can take any number of cast changes without detriment to the performance experienced by the audience.

    I do not think that it is true to say that there are no Ashton dancers at the Royal Ballet but there is ample evidence that management casting decisions are more about seniority or giving dancers the opportunity to have a go than they are about suitability. As management gives away as little as possible about casting when tickets first go on sale you have to take pot luck about the quality of the performance that you will eventually see. If you had gone to the first performance of the recent Ashton mixed bill you would have come away very satisfied with the performance of Symphonic Variations if you had come to the next performance you would have been far less satisfied by Symphonic because only two of the dancers from the first performance were on stage.On the other hand you would have been far more impressed by the performance of the Five Brahms Waltzes.

    Morera is probably the best all round Ashton dancer at present .She has the right musicality and because she has mastery of the choreography she is able to forget the steps and simply dances the ballet She is excellent in the ballerina role in Rhapsody and as Fairy Autumn and Diana. She is very good as Lise, Titania and Fairy Godmother. She is very good in Symphonic and in the Neapolitan Dance.In the last revival of Birthday Offering she danced her variation with real understanding and musicality, not something that could be said about most of the dancers on stage.

    Of the male dancers two of the best Ashton dancers are Paul Kay and Ricardo Cervera neither of whom are principals.Kay is by physique and temperament a demi character dancer. He is one of the best Ashton dancers because he does not simply reproduce steps, he knows that mastery of the steps is just the beginning. His Jester, Alain, Puck and Blue Skater are all excellent. He is the sort of dancer that Ashton created so many of his on.He dances the Jester as a character rather than a close relative of a Soviet jester,all technique and nothing else. He is definitely not a mere leg machine. His Alain is beautifully characterised; his Puck brings out the text that is hidden in the choreography; his Blue Skater is not simply an opportunity to display technique. and he can actually dance the choreography including the section that McRae could not manage. His Kolia is perhaps,now, a trifle mature but still excellent. Cervera is a fine Colas and Tiranio and used to be excellent in the Neapolitan dance.He has been understudy for Oberon but never,as far as I know,danced it while Matthew Golding who I thought was hopelessly miscast, too tall and slow, has.

    As far as the rest of the dancers are concerned Nunez is generally regarded as a fine Lise , She was the best thing in Birthday Offering when it was last revived. Both Rojo and Nunez appeared in the Fonteyn role but while Nunez danced the ballet, Rojo appeared to be counting and merely reproducing steps. Nunez is a fine Lykanion and excellent in Symphonic. Her Sylvia showed great technical command but was bland.

    Yanowsky is a fine Lady Elgar, Natalia Petrovna,, and Fairy Winter,She is a wonderfully squiffy Josephine and although not an ideal height for Sylvia she has shown far more of what the ballet can be in performance than anyone else has done. Lamb was fine in Thais with Bonelli and in Cinderella but far too serious as Lise.

    Bonelli is a fine Daphnis,and Baliaev and much better in the Thais pas de deux than Soares. Pennefather is a fine Aminta and

    Baliaev.They are both excellent in Symphonic..Watson is a fine Oberon,and is good in Enigma Variations and White Monotones.

    Dancers to watch out for Francesca Hayward who made a stunning debut in Rhapsody with James Hay in February and followed that up with an excellent Vera; Yasmine Naghdi who along with Hayward has musicality and epaulement;James Hay stunningly elegant in the main male role in Rhapsody, very good as Kolia and in the Brian Shaw role in Symphonic; Vadim Muntagirov who made a wonderful debut in the Some's role in Symphonic. If he did not look so happy at the second and third performances that could well be because of what was going on with the rest of the cast. Symphonic is an extraordinarily difficult ballet to get right with a good cast to dance it with a less than ideal cast must be hell. Finally nineteen year old Reece Clarke who made an auspicious debut in the main role in Symphonic variations.


  20. I think that the audience is entitled to expect the RB to field their best Ashton dancers for performances of Symphonic Variations and Scenes de Ballet. Unfortunately Mr O'Hare seems to think differently. It seemed that greater thought was given to casting and preparing Month, a work with which the company is familiar, than was given to Scenes or Symphonic. For my money Francesca Hayward should have been in Symphonic rather than cast as Vera or even more daringly,on the basis of her performance in Rhapsody, given the chance to dance the ballerina role in Scenes. She is one of the few who really look and move like an Ashton dancer. I should be interested to know which casts you saw Mashinka as the performances were, to put it mildly, variable.

    Something that I find totally inexplicable is that ,unlike the past, no attempt seems to be made to build on experience.In the past dancers who had previously danced in Symphonic would be cast in revivals, but that never seems to happen now;and there are still dancers in the company who have danced it before. Given the amount of time and effort that must go into reviving Symphonic the current management's policy, which given the number of permutations seen in this revival,seems to be of giving everyone a chance to have a go, makes very little sense but says a great deal about their attitude to Ashton's works. Another example of this failure to build on experience is Monotines. A great deal of tiime and effort must have gone into reviving Monotones I and II. It makes no sense that it has not been scheduled this year. Most of the casts are still in the company and they had got so close to getting it right and a further run of performances might well have done it. But of course there is no need.They have got that piece of the heritage on DVD, time to move on.It probably will be revived at some point in the future with an entirely new cast who will almost get there and then it will be put back in the cupboard marked job done!

  21. I think that I first noticed the ominous words "Heritage Works" being used at about the time that Ross Stretton was appointed director of the Royal Ballet.The words suggested that such ballets are something of an irrelevance and that it does not matter whether they are performed or not. Stretton's programming suggested that he felt that the works that de Valois and Ashton had worked so hard to acquire and the ballets that they had created were irrelevant in the twenty first century.

    I can't help thinking that if Russian dancers in the throes of their reaction to the late nineteenth century style of ballet with its apparent over emphasis on technique were prepared to describe Petipa's works as classics and to dance in them at the same time as they appeared in Fokine's revolutionary works then we should feel able to do the same with the greatest works of the twentieth century If they were described as twentieth century classics their non performance might become an issue as far as the reputation and standing of ballet companies is concerned..A company's failure to programme its twentieth century works and perform them regularly with carefully selected and coached dancers would become something that artistic directors would have to justify.It would certainly become a ground for criticism of the company's artistic policies.Who knows it might result in a wider range of works being performed than is currently the case.

    As far as the enquiry about Ashton dancers is concerned are you discussing dancers who dance in the appropriate styleand are good in the roles which the are given or dancers who are cast in Ashton's works regardless of their suitabilty?

  22. I don't know how many people go to see ballet performances in your country or mine for that matter, but I have no doubt that it is a pretty small proportion of the population.You can't go by ticket sales because so many of us go to multiple performances to see different casts.If you know very little about ballet but have been to one or two performances then the chances are that you will have been to see one or two of the late nineteenth century classics. Ballets that were created to display technique as well as artistry. It is very easy, if stylistic considerations are of no interest to either the dancers or their coaches, for these ballets to degenerate into mere displays of dance technique. I am thinking for example of a Swan Lake where the great Act 2 pas de deux is danced at a funereal pace, in order to show the ballerina's control,or a Sleeping Beauty where the ballerina appears to be going for a world record for the duration of her balances in the Rose Adagio.

    If that is your experience of ballet either in the flesh or from DVD then you are going to see ballet as essentially a display of bodily control, and as such, not that different from gymnastics.A couple of years ago San Francisco Ballet came to London with a mixed bill that included two ballets for an all male cast, Mark Morris' Beaux and a piece by a young member of that company which was described as a homage to his Russian school. Beaux is a fascinating piece for an all male cast with not a jump in sight, the piece by the young dancer was a display piece with a limited vocabulary of jumps and turns. Beaux was greeted politely, with a degree of bewilderment, by the audience the "homage" piece with great enthusiasm.It seems to me that the audience were more in tune with the excitement generated by the "homage" than they were with the beauty of Beaux. That excitement, it seemed to me, was closer to the response to an outstanding sports event than to a work of art a" wow" response rather than "ah" that was so beautiful.

    Danilova writing of the difference between ballet in Russia and the West said that ballet in Russia had once been concerned with storytelling and the creation of mood but had become a display of dancing. Perhaps the same thing has now happened in the West. There are dancers who say that you can never be too extreme when it comes to extensions and there are many who torture a score to give themselves time for extra turns and six o'clock extensions. If a choreographic text is altered by the addition of Mr X's or Miss Y's latest trick without any adverse comment then perhaps it should come as no surprise that ballet is described by many as a sport rather than an art form after all the addition of new tricks brings it closer and closer to ice skating which definitely is a sport.

  23. Management decisions can be unfathomable whatever is being managed. Last season the company acquired two new male principals,Matthew Golding and Vadim Muntagirov. No one asked why Muntagirov was joining , his abilities are well known to ballet goers in London and everywhere that English National Ballet visits.Golding's talents were something of an unknown quantity. His appearance as Conrad in ENB's new Corsaire did not reveal anything out of the ordinary about him.Both men appeared at Covent Garden as the prince in Sleeping Beauty Muntagirov gave a very polished account of the role,Golding's performance was.not in the same class .Golding also danced Oberon, which proved to be a role that does not suit him.

    This season he was announced as the lead for every performance of Symphonic Variations but was replaced without any explanation by Muntagirov and Reece Clarke.I don't think that anyone felt a pang of disappointment when they discovered that they were not going to see him. I know that a lot of people are wondering why he has been taken into the company.We all hope that we get an answer soon.The company was not desperate for another male principal at that point.The decision to sign him

    does not make much sense in isolation and makes even less sense in the light of the subsequent recruitment of Muntagirov and the decision to take Reece Clarke from the school during his final year. But then the company has made something of a habit of

    recruiting dancers to senior positions for no apparent reason. There is nothing wrong with most of them but there is nothing that special about them when they are on stage. They can't all be dancers who give their best performances in class.

    The company found it necessary to recruit from the outside after the loss of several male dancers when Michael Kaiser suggested that the company should be disbanded during the rebuilding of the opera house and re-established as a sort of ABT on Thames. But that was nearly twenty years ago.It sometimes seems that having been forced to recruit from the outside through necessity the company has got into a habit that it can't break.

    As far as the choice of repertory and casts for the screened performances are concerned I suspect that management believes that full length story ballets with known names are a safer option than a mixed bill.You could always try writing to Kevin O'Hare

    to ask why he is showing such a limited number of works and why he keeps using the same group of dancers.The Royal Ballet's decisions on casting for performances on tour and those that are screened do not,it seems to me,always result in the best casts being seen by the wider public.There seem to be other factors at play such as interest in particular dancers and name recognition among the wider,non ballet going public. When the Collier Coleman recording of La Fille Mal Gardee was made they were the first cast in that ballet and there was a general consensus that they were the best exponents of their roles that the company could muster at that time. I do not think that the regular ballet goer would have said the same of the Acosta Nunez cast

    at the time that their recording was made.I can think of at least two other casts that most regulars would have have gone to see in preference to them but Acosta has name recognition and sells tickets and presumably DVDs

    Again I suspect that the choice of Darcey Bussell as the compere for the screened broadcasts is a subtle combination of name recognition and laziness.The sad fact is that as far as the average non ballet going member of the public in this country is concerned Nijinsky was a racehorse.The only dancers'names that are recognised are, Nureyev and Bussell which is why whenever a journalist, working for the popular press, writes about a young dancer their names are taken in vain. Name recognition only applies to Fonteyn and Acosta among people who actually go to the ballet. Bussell had,and continues to have,a loyal following;she has even greater name recognition now as a result of being one of the judges on Strictly Come Dancing. She is,no doubt,seen as someone who will dispel the idea that ballet is elitist. In this country elite and elitist are words that can only be applied to sportsmen and sportswomen without any hint of criticism.I haven't seen any of the screened performances but from comments that I have read from people in this country Bussell clearly does not impress. Deborah Bull would probably have been a better choice from the ballet goer's perspective but the powers that be may well have thought that she sounds too

    authoritative but they may have given it no real thought to it at all.


  24. If you look at the ballets revived during Mason's directorship you will find that she restored a significant number of Ashton's works to the active repertory. Having restored Sylvia to its original three act form she ensured that it was seen during several seasons. Although we got to see a wider range of Ashton works than we did during Dowell's directorship not all of it was well danced.Both Ashton and MacMillan controlled the quality of the performances of their ballets by deciding who appeared in them Today the company management makes most, if not all, of the casting decisions. It is probably fair to assume that on occasion the need to keep the principal dancers happy by giving them roles that they would like to dance outweighs artistic considerations.

    The revival of Birthday Offering in Mason's final season seemed to be a prime example of what can go wrong when you cast dancers according to their position in the company rather than their suitability for particular roles .Rojo was given the Fonteyn role in one cast and Nunez in the other. Rojo was very stiff and gave the impression that she was counting throughout rather than listening to the music and as a result the choreography did not look particularly good;whereas when Nunez danced, it made the impact that it should. The majority of the dancers made heavy weather of their variations.It might have been better not to have revived it because the revival did few of the dancers any favours.An intriguing alternative would have been to select Nunez and some of the younger members of the company for the second cast. I do not think that that would have been possible but it would have been a great improvement on what we saw..The lower ranks of the company have, for the main part, been trained at the RBS if only for a short time. The younger dancers might have had a better idea of the style and would almost certainly have listened to their coaches.

    But just as you begin to despair something happens at a performance and your hope is restored,at least in part. That something was the appearance last February for a single Saturday matinee performance of James Hay and Francesca Hayward in Rhapsody. Ashton's Rhapsody is probably the most unlikely ballet for a debut at an early stage in a dancer's career and to put two relatively inexperienced dancers on in it seemed a little rash even to those who had seen the pair in other roles. While it may be true that Hay was dancing far closer to the edge of his technical ability than either McRae or Zucchetti had been,his dancing was elegant and seemed effortless. Francesca Hayward brought lyricism, natural musicality and bright, clean footwork to the Collier role.It would be nice to think that we might see it revived in the 2015-2016 season with this cast but,as the company does not take its role as custodian of the Ashton repertory seriously,it seems unlikely.

    The problem for the Ashton repertory is that, apart from ballets like the Dream and Month,it is not performed with any degree of frequency. The rights to Ashton's ballets are held by a number people who have varying levels of interest in the revival of the works that they own while MacMillan's ballets are owned by a single individual who is active in promoting them. Although the company needs to develop its dancers it is now run by a team who seem to have little or no interest in using works such as Les Patineurs and Les Rendezvous as a means of developing its dancers. As dancers are more likely to see exemplary performances of MacMillan's works than they are of Ashton's his works continue to be performed at a consistently high level while the standard of performance of Ashton's works is far more variable.


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